Comment: Nuno leaves huge shoes to fill at Wolves
No matter how recruiting players are, the first job of the board is to find someone who can build on the legacy of a manager who was arguably the best at the club since Stan Cullis and certainly the best of Last 40 years.
Anyone who accepts the challenge will find an almost unrecognizable wolf in the one Nuno first encountered four summers ago. During this period he has managed to transform not only the club’s position in the league, but also perceptions of what is possible at Molineux.
Over the past 12 somewhat disappointing months, these heightened expectations have come back to bite him at times.
Despite all the success, Nuno leaves a club now parked at a crossroads. What happens over the next few days, hours and weeks will say more about Fosun’s long-term ambitions than any statement posted on the club’s website.
If Nuno’s departure is officially by mutual agreement and relatively amicably, the decision to make a change was nevertheless motivated by the owners and in particular the president Jeff Shi.
If Nuno had become an integral figure in Molineux, the search for his successor will test an infrastructure in which Shi and recently appointed CTO Scott Sellars now sit at the center.
Help will come, as always, from Jorge Mendes, the man who sourced Nuno and who continues to be a trusted advisor.
The Wolves model has always raised eyebrows, but it was Nuno who helped supporters buy into the project and trust Fosun, after the chaotic first year at the helm of the owners characterized by botched recruitment and the sometimes insane reign. 87 days of Walter Zenga.
Certainly, it helps when you have quality players from Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota to help you escape the league. But Wolves of Nuno have always been about the collective rather than the individual and for all the fantastic signings in those early transfer windows, it still takes football’s biggest brains to spot Conor Coady’s potential as a central defender.
For over two and a half years, Wolves have been steadily climbing.
Yes, there were setbacks, an excruciating FA Cup semi-final loss to Watford at Wembley, the most notable of which. Still, they were comfortably overwhelmed by the highlights, which were countless: Victory over Villa in 2017, Bristol City away, Manchester United in the FA Cup, Turin, Manchester City at home and away. You can pretty much take your pick.
Nuno united the club and his supporters like little before him. An almost iconic figure, his image can be seen on posters and murals throughout the city.
The peak, on reflection, was perhaps the Europa League’s 4-0 victory over Espanyol last season. Molineux was packed, Neves scored a spectacular goal and fans marched dreaming of more memorable nights to come. Barely three weeks later, the pandemic struck, the round of 16 game against Olympiacos was forced behind closed doors and fans have not returned to Molineux since.
Nuno and his players returned at the start of the summer to resume the Premier League season, but from then on something was missing.
An almost non-existent closed season, an indifferent transfer window and a cruel fortune with injuries, including the loss of the talisman Raul Jimenez, quickly turned 2020-21 into joyless toil.
Rarely a man of many words, at least in public, Nuno has become more and more outspoken. Press briefings, which often did not exceed the 10-minute mark in previous years, now lasted twice, sometimes three times as long. Unable to return home to see his family in Portugal for months, he became more and more lonely and as the team began to struggle, a coach who always seemed to have the answers suddenly struggled to find them. find.
As he struggled to maintain his identity, so did the team.
Still, his departure comes as a shock, not least because news broke less than an hour after he faced the media at lunchtime yesterday, with no clue that a major announcement could be imminent.
Until very recently, the ambient music emanating from Compton Park was that of a refocused and rejuvenated Nuno, determined to correct the mistakes of the past year and challenge the first half of the league again next season.
Reports earlier this month that he could leave were dismissed, with Nuno adamant he would honor the three-year contract signed only last September.
In the end, Shi decided a change was needed, but whatever the circumstances, the departure of the head coach raises obvious questions about the discussions that have taken place in recent weeks over plans for the summer transfer window. .
After losing ground to clubs looking to challenge the Premier League’s elite, the feeling is that Wolves will need to do a lot of work in the market in order to get back on track. Now those concerns will belong to someone else.
Nuno may not have pushed Wolves as far as the fans had dreamed.
Yet he pushed them further than anyone would have dared to imagine when he first climbed the steps of the Billy Wright Stand four years ago. Off the pitch, his £ 250,000 donation to launch the Feed Our Pack initiative was nothing short of extraordinary, securing a legacy that will remain long beyond his reign.
The next man to make the trip has some really big shoes to fill.